Facebook Bows to Russian Pressure, Blocks Page for Anti-Kremlin Rally
Prosecutors say advertising an unsanctioned protest in support of Putin critic Alexei Navalny breaks media laws
Facebook's Russian service has been criticized after it caved in to Kremlin demands to block the page of an opposition leader advertising an anti-government rally mid-January.
The news comes just days after Sony was accused of bowing to pressure after it pulled The Interview from release following threats and a cyberattack believed to have been orchestrated by North Korea.
Putin critic Alexei Navalny — who is featured in an award-winning documentary The Term — is due in court Jan. 15 to face controversial fraud charges that could put him behind bars for 10 years.
Russia's Internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, said Sunday that the page was blocked on the orders of the general prosecutor, a move Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador, in Moscow said was "bad for business."
"We all make mistakes," the former diplomat wrote on Twitter. "@facebook should correct theirs asap. Current action - horrible precedent & bad for business."
Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner who rose to prominence during anti-Putin protests in Moscow three years ago, is accused, along with his brother, of fraud in a case critics say has been cooked up to land him behind bars.
His supporters put up a Russian Facebook page to advertise a Moscow protest. By Saturday, 12,000 people had signed up for the rally.
The Russian prosecutor's office said it broke media laws because the protest was unsanctioned and demanded its removal.
In the first six months of this year, Facebook agreed to 29 requests from the Russian government to restrict content that fell foul of local laws, forbidding the promotion of "extremist activities and images of drug-use and self-harm."